Pitching key to WCWS success

Wednesday at the Women's College World Series is a day of practice and media interviews for the eight participating teams. I joined my ESPN colleagues Michele Smith, Stacy Nuveman, Jennie Finch, Pam Ward and Holly Rowe in the basement of the Softball Hall of Fame next to the stadium to meet with the teams. Here are some of the better nuggets of information on the WCWS teams and Thursday's matchups.

Michigan vs. LSU Thu. at noon ET (ESPN)

Michigan and LSU took interesting trips to get to the Women's College World Series. Due to the Ann Arbor Regional final being played on Monday, the Wolverines had to take whatever flight was available to get to Oklahoma City on Tuesday. That ended up being a triple connector from Ann Arbor to Chicago to Kansas City to Oklahoma City. They arrived tired, but happy to still be playing.

LSU took a bus to the Waco Regional last week. Prior to leaving for Waco, Texas the coaching staff told the players to also pack whatever they would need for the Women's College World Series. After winning in Waco, LSU hopped back on the bus and drove straight to Oklahoma City. So what did the team do with it's free time on Monday? Laundry. Ah, the glamorous life of the student athlete at the WCWS.

One of the big questions of Day One is who will be the starting pitcher for Michigan. We won't find out until just prior to game time whether it will be Jennie Ritter or Nicole Motycka ? and neither will they. Coach Carol Hutchings usually waits to tell them shortly before the first pitch.

For Michigan to win they will have to get production from their senior class. The Wolverines are making their third appearance in the WCWS and have never won. In particular keep on eye on Angie Churchill who never played much prior to this season. Now, she has to be in the lineup for the Wolverines to win.

LSU wants to jump out early and then ride the arm of pitcher Kristin Schmidt. The Tigers are unbeaten when they score first this year, a perfect 44-0. Schmidt transferred to LSU from Notre Dame because she was homesick, but also because she wanted the challenge of competing in the WCWS. She gets her chance on Thursday.

Senior LaDonia Hughes is the threat on the bases for LSU, stealing 28 bases and scoring 51 runs. When she gets on base, she puts pressure on the defense and makes good things happen for the Bayou Bengals.

UCLA vs. Stanford Thu. at 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Bruins Coach Sue Enquist, who was a quote machine with the media on Wednesday, has wonderful insights into the game. UCLA is the defending champ and always considered a WCWS favorite. However, "the game does not know" who is supposed to win, said Enquist. You have to go out and play it. And if you don't bring your best it will be "Two and Barbeque."

Rarely do the Bruins "Two and Barbecue" especially with power in the circle and at the plate. Keira Goerl will attempt to go the distance and pitch every inning for the Bruins, just like she did last year. She can mow batters down with her velocity -- close to 70 mph -- or with her good changeup.

At the plate, UCLA likes to touch 'em all. The Bruins have clubbed 74 home runs this season. The roundtrippers account for half of their scoring. In a two-game set in Palo Alto in early May, the Bruins hit four home runs.

Stanford hopes a little of the US Olympic team rubs off on them. Coach John Rittman and sophomore Lauren Lappin have both spent time training with Team USA during the season.

Lappin says she's witnessed a whole new level of dedication and commitment from the Olympians. That helps her bring a whole new perspective back to Stanford with her to share with her college teammates.

Oklahoma vs. Washington

Thu. at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

The Sooners get to play before a throng of cheering fans, while Washington hits the road to play in hostile territory. And yet both teams feel right at home.

Oklahoma is back home at the WCWS for the 5th year in a row. Coach Patty Gasso says the sold out crowd at Hall of Fame Stadium (about 45 minutes from the Norman campus) can either "fuel us or freak us out."

She's hoping for the fuel, and the Sooners hope pitcher Kami Keiter has plenty in the tank. Due to injuries to the rest of the staff, OU will go as far as Keiter's arm can take them. She's a "Real Estate" pitcher, it's all about location. If she hits her spots, Keiter will be tough to touch.

Washington doesn't mind playing in the enemy's backyard. In fact, the Huskies thrive on it. Due to inclement weather in Seattle during most of February, March and April, the Huskies play the majority of their games on the road.

This year's schedule included 13 home games and 44 on the road. No problem. Last year, the Huskies beat Oklahoma and Kami Keiter at the WCWS. Acting co-head coach Scott Centala says it's a matter of "getting comfortable in an uncomfortable situation."

California vs. Florida State

Thu. at 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

It's a numbers game for the Bears and Seminoles. Will it be 1-2-3 or 4-5-6?

Vicki Galindo, Lindsay James and Haley Woods are the engine that drives the Bears. The trio at the top of the order get on base by any means necessary. And when they do, it's their job to figure out a way to score.

They can slap, bunt and hit for power. They can steal bases and put lots of pressure on opposing defenses. Galindo, James and Woods have combined to score 124 runs this year. The Bears will rely on the trio to make it happen in the WCWS.

Elisa Vasquez, Lesley Palmer and Tatiana George make up the heart of lineup (4-5-6) for FSU. The trio has generated 92 RBI this year and has the responsibility of bringing around the leadoff hitters for the 'Noles.

That didn't happen in the regional and as a result Florida State struggled. The threesome hit a combined 8-56 last weekend and drove in just two runs. Coach Joanne Graf says their bats have to boom for the FSU to get the job done.

Beth Mowins is an announcer for ESPN during coverage of the 2004 Women's College World Series.